Content Warning: racialized violence, sexual assault
May 5th is Hanna Harris's birthday. She was 21 in the summer of 2013, when she went out one evening and never came home. Authorities were slow to respond to reports that she had gone missing, and it was not police but a community organized search party that found Hanna's body four days later, too decomposed to determine cause of death.
Delays like this are not uncommon when crimes against Native people are committed on reservations by non-Natives, and justice has long been frustrated by the tribes' legal inability to prosecute on their own land. Once out of the Indigenous hands, crucial evidence tends to get lost, and cases often go cold. (It also just so happens that Indigenous people are more likely to be killed by police than any other minority group.)
Hanna Harris and her 10 month old son
According to the CDC, homicide is the third leading cause of death for Indigenous women in the U.S., and the majority of these murders are committed by non-Native people, on Native land. In 2016, the National Institute of Justice Report stated that Native women are 1.7 times more likely to experience violence than white women, and twice as likely to be raped. The majority of their assailants are non-Native.
The results of a national inquiry in Canada revealed that in the past three decades, Indigenous women made up 16% of all female homicides, despite representing only 4% of the nation's female population. Similarly, the murder rate of Native women is three times higher than white women in the United States. Overall, it's ten times higher than the national average.
"The lack of urgency and attention to violence against Indigenous people has necessitated the organization of a mass movement coordinated by Native American and First Nations communities."
The lack of urgency and attention to violence against Indigenous people has necessitated the organization of a mass movement coordinated by Native American and First Nations communities. MMIW is working to bring awareness to the problem, to locate Indigenous people who have gone missing, to support victims' families, and to ensure safety and secure sovereignty for future generations. Ongoing efforts involve amplifying Indigenous voices, instilling cultural pride through education and preservation of language and culture, and training vulnerable groups in self-defense.
The REDress Project - installation by Jaime Black
Their mission, like countless other Indigenous nonprofit organizations, aligns with the broader 'Land Back' movement which has existed for generations but has taken on a more official form since NDN Collective launched a LANDBACK Campaign in 2020. The project seeks to reclaim what has been taken from Indigenous people, including their own languages, ceremonies, medicine, sovereignty, sacred places, and symbiotic relationship with the land. Land Back is dedicated to climate justice, conservation and stewardship, to the voices of youth who represent the future, and to the collective liberation of all oppressed people groups.
Change is incremental, but victories are being won. For instance, a recent ruling determined that much of Eastern Oklahoma falls within the Muscogee (Creek) Nation's reservation, granting the tribe the right to handle prosecution of crimes on the land. It's a very meaningful win, and sets an important precedent for sovereignty.
Creek Council Oak Tree, Tulsa OK
Hanna's birthday now marks the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. She would have been 29 this year. In her honor, a bill called Hanna's Act was passed in 2019, creating a position within the state Justice Department meant to expedite the search and recovery of missing people in her home state of Montana.
You may see a lot of the color red today, as many observers will be wearing it in honor of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two spirit individuals. It has been utilized to dramatic effect in a renowned installation art piece by Métis artist Jaime Black, called the REDress Project, and has a common meaning for several tribes, according to Native Women's Wilderness:
"...red is known to be the only color spirits see. It is hoped that by wearing red, we can call back the missing spirits of our women and children so we can lay them to rest."
So today, we are wearing red. But we are also donating 100% of our profits to MMIWUSA.org
Please help to boost the signal for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women today. Search social media for the hashtag #MMIW and repost content from Indigenous creators to amplify their message. Share Native-led nonprofits like MMIWUSA, Land Back, Sovereign Bodies, and the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women.
See also: A list of Native-owned businesses to support!